Furloughs of air traffic controllers caused by the federal budget sequestration are now the latest challenge for air travelers. By mid-afternoon Monday, delays were piling up.
"We have approximately 50 inbound arrivals and 40 departures that are delayed out of the northeast," said John Tiliacos, vice president of operations at Tampa International Airport, "They could very well be related entirely to staffing shortages, or there could be come sort of combination of staffing shortages and weather related impact."
In a prepared statement, the Federal Aviation Administration said on any given day, up to 10 percent of its 15,000 air traffic controllers will be on furlough.
Retired ATC Patrick McCormick, who now has a flight safety consulting business, complained those furloughs are equal from airport to airport, even though staffing and workloads vary from one location to another.
"From strictly a safety standpoint for the flying public, why would you cut the ones that didn't have enough staffing to begin with?" McCormick said, explaining that smaller airports can certify trainees much more quickly than complex air spaces, such as in Boston or New York.
"The harder the facility, the more complex, probably the lower your staffing is right now," McCormick said, "You probably have a lot more trainees and a lot less certified air traffic controllers."
Adding to the situation: A generational turnover in air traffic controllers due to mass retirements. The FAA, in its latest work force planning document, said it has hired more than 7,500 ATC's the past five years and plans to hire 6,200 more over the next five years "...to keep pace with expected attrition and traffic growth."
Governor Rick Scott wrote President Obama Monday, saying in part "Once again, this is another example of the federal government using a meat cleaver, when they should be using a scalpel to reduce government spending."
Scott then made the rounds of Florida's major airports, including a brief news conference at TIA.
"They expect delays," Scott told reporters. "I mean, think about it -- they know exactly what's going to happen and they're expecting these delays. Why would you do this to the citizens of this country?"
In his letter to the President, Scott claimed Florida will experience a $19 million annual economic impact because of the furloughs. He claims most of that damage will be sustained by Florida's tourism industry.
However, the local impacts may be muted: Pinellas is now entering the summer tourist season, when 80 percent of the visitors are in the "drive market." The east coast may not be so lucky.
"Miami, for example, has upwards of 90 percent of the year-round visitation coming via airplane," said David Downing of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater. Downing added his industry will be watching, similar to how it watches increases in gasoline prices.
"The same question is true of air travel. With disruptions, with added time, at what point is that going to start affecting behaviors?" Downing wondered, "That's why everyone is watching this very closely."
LINK: Check delays around the nation: http://www.fly.faa.gov/flyfaa/usmap.jsp
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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